The F-16 Block 70 Fighter Jet is the most unconventional version of the Fighting Falcon, the wings of which will be manufactured in India. Lockheed Martin has joined hands with Tata Advanced Systems to produce the fighter wings in Hyderabad. But the United States President Donald Trump wants to bring back it’s manufacturing to American coasts.
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This will not cost any American jobs, because F-16 wings are currently manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries in Israel. On the other hand, it’s hardly a victory for Trump’s call for the U.S. manufactured to bring their outsourced production back home.
“This strategic initiative positions Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) to become the provider of wings for all future customers,” said a Lockheed Martin statement. “This is a strategic business decision that reflects the value of our partnerships with India and the confidence we have in Tata.”
Responding to speculation that the move is an incentive for the Indian Air Force to purchase the F-16, Lockheed Martin stated the “the planned F-16 wing production move to India is not contingent on the Government of India selecting the F-16 for the Indian Air Force.”
The spokesman of Lockheed Martin told the National Interest that “it will take approximately two years for Tata to demonstrate this manufacturing capability and become a certified Lockheed Martin supplier. The opportunity for wing production occurs once that is completed, projected to be late 2020 or early 2021.”
This is not the only manufacturing change for the F-16 Block 70 (and the Block 72, a similar model with an engine made by Pratt & Whitney instead of General Electric). Lockheed Martin is moving F-16 assembly from Fort Worth, Texas to Greenville, South Carolina.
“The Block 70 and Block 72 both feature the same advanced avionics, APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, modernized cockpit, advanced weapons, conformal fuel tanks, automatic ground collision avoidance system, advanced engine, and industry-leading extended structural service life of 12,000 hours,” said Losinger.
The fighter jet scored its first sale in June, when Bahrain ordered 16 jets in a $1.1 billion deal, followed by a 14-jet purchase by Slovakia, which opted for the US plane over Sweden’s Saab Gripen.
“We are also proposing the F-16 Block 70 for the Bulgarian Air Force and we’re in discussions with numerous other customers about new production F-16s, and F-16V [the Viper version] upgrades,” said Losinger. “We see F-16 production opportunities totalling more than 400 aircraft, including the potential F-16 Block 70 order for the Indian Air Force.”
Which is good news for Lockheed Martin, and the United States, which will enjoy seeing former Russian clients like Bulgaria and India buying American aircraft to replace their MiGs. But the wings will still be made in India, which is good news for the Indian economy.
The jet is hardly the only aircraft that uses foreign-made parts, noted Richard Aboulafia, an aviation industry analyst for the Teal Group consultancy. Aboulafia pointed to Boeing’s F-15, which uses numerous foreign-made parts, including Israeli-made rudders and doors, and Japanese- and Korean-made components for jets used by those countries.
The manufacturers of US aircraft need free trade to sell planes across the country, which puts them on a collision course with Trump administration’s Buy America policy. “This is a risk all aerospace manufacturers face: the need to grow the market and live in a globalized industry while placating a nationalist administration that doesn’t understand business,” Aboulafia told the National Interest.